As the popularity of the internet and electronic devices continues to grow, so do the number of places where cybercriminals can find—and steal—our personal data. The rise in device ownership is also creating an enormous amount of e-waste. The World Economic Forum estimates that the world is currently producing 50 million tons of e-waste every year, and could reach 120 million tons by 2050.1
More consumers are doing their part to protect the environment by recycling or donating old electronics and recycling paper-based documents. But you need to remain vigilant to protect personal information that appears on recycled items so it cannot be used in identity fraud against you.
Identity thieves can use personal data to impersonate consumers
New account fraud and mobile phone takeover are both on the rise.2 New account fraud occurs when fraudsters open new accounts under a victim’s name using data they have stolen from paper documents or online devices to fool banks and other businesses. Losses stemming from new account fraud rose last year especially for car loans, student loans, and mortgages. 3 Additionally, fraudsters are becoming adept at taking over mobile phone accounts in order to intercept alerts and one-time passwords sent by text message.
Don’t just throw it out—protect personal data before recycling
According to the Department of Homeland Security, consumers should follow best practices for electronic device disposal to prevent the inadvertent disclosure of sensitive information that could be exploited by cybercriminals and fraudsters.4 Smartphones, computers, and tablets are the most obvious places where identity thieves can find personal data, but you should also permanently destroy, erase, or sanitize the following items before recycling or donating:
• Digital media—items like digital cameras and media players create, store, and play digital content that fraudsters can use to learn more about potential victims.
• External hardware and peripheral devices—printers, monitors, and external hard drives contain permanently stored digital characters that can provide a treasure trove for identity thieves.
• Paper-based documents—it’s important to shred utility bills, junk mail, correspondence from medical facilities or your child’s school, and other paper statements before putting them in the recycling bin.
Fraudsters can use a partial account number, bank name, and other information to open new accounts in a victim’s name.
Save the environment and earth’s precious resources
It’s important to recycle old electronic devices to keep toxic metals out of landfills and conserve precious resources like metals and minerals. For example, cell phones contain copper, silver, gold, and palladium that can be harvested and reused in the production of new devices. According to the American Forest and Paper Association, it’s also important to recycle paper because every ton of recovered paper saves 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.
As you consider how you can conserve natural resources and help the environment, don’t forget to protect the privacy of your personal information. Do your part and be proactive by sanitizing electronic devices before disposal and shredding paper-based documents before putting them in the recycle bin.
1 “A New Circular Vision for Global Electronics,” World Economic Forum, January 2019
2 “2019 Identity Fraud Study: Fraudsters Seek New Targets and Victims Bear the Brunt,” Javelin Strategy & Research.
4 CISA, Department of Homeland Security, “Security Tip: ST18-005,” last revised November 2019
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